The United States, and increasingly, the world, is being kept in thrall by the new president, Donald J. Trump. His lack of experience, combined with narcissistic demands, keep everyone on edge, trying to second-guess what he will say and do with uncalculated and, perhaps, irreversible consequences.
He claimed that he’d follow campaign promises with acts. We now see acts of signing presidential orders without the benefit of briefings or considering advice from the other two branches of the government, which serve as a means of checks and balances. This president, vindictive and hasty, is so chaotic that everybody is left in limbo attempting to second-guess him; it seems that he himself does not know what he will say or do next. He has no “policy” as such, but approaches government as only another business that he can play with. If he is criticized or contradicted, he pits people against one another with threats of fearful possibilities; he denigrates those who do not praise him. Like a severe parent withholding an allowance, he threatens to withhold funding from institutions and cities. Such actions are not justified and would be neither a deterrent nor beneficial to the citizens he is sworn to lead and protect.
Among Mr. Trump’s destructive actions, his threat to take away funding for the arts is coming from a viciousness that wrongly demonizes the very foundations of culture. To damage the arts, which speak truth to power and which show in various vocabularies, (auditory and visual, as well as linguistic) a fruitful multiplicity of experiences, is the basis for propaganda and humorlessness: Doubleplusgood diminution of the language.
By keeping all guessing in the midst of his self-generated chaos, Trump reduces us all to co-dependence. Like a child living with an alcoholic or drug-addicted parent, expectations are thwarted or reversed. Cognitive dissonance results, as in George Orwell’s prescient dystopian novel 1984. Anyone who feels they must trust such a person is bound to be damaged. The personality disorder exhibited by this new president has been recognized by many people, including Dr. Sam Vaknin, author of Narcissism Revisited. They think that he exhibits behavioral traits typical of someone with the personality disorder known as malignant narcissism. Symptoms include: the inability to feel empathy, the constant need for attention, compulsive lying, a short attention span, and dictatorial attitudes.
How does one resist? Stop lavishing attention on him; preface any media reporting of his actions with factual reporting; stop giving him the “narcissistic supply” that he craves. In addition to demonstrating in the streets, I tell my students to stay centered and continue to make art. The best way to resist tyranny is to belittle the ego of the tyrant and starve him of his efforts to play upon fears with corrosive exaggerations and lies. Laughing at the devil, an old idea that so many social satirists such as Voltaire and Swift have used, can expose injustices. If we prolong hopeless arguing that tends to confuse rational thought with irrational emotion then, to use Yeats’ metaphor, we are reduced to mere “weasels fighting in a hole.” Rather than trying to placate an erratic power-hungry figure, ignore him so that he notices.
Go ahead and be who you are: an artist, a filmmaker, a teacher, a parent, a journalist. Say and do what needs to be said and done and shown by independent-minded persons able to see the consequences of actions. This goes for all of us, including the independent press. The efforts of this usurper of the office of the president to make the unethical into law must be exposed and prevented once and for all.
Faculty Member, Department of Humanities & Social Sciences, School of Visual Arts